This is a editable guide for all beginners. All experienced players please feel free to add your own tips.
There are five main ways of making credits in Freelancer: camping, missions, trading, salvaging and mining.
Around all the systems there are various wrecks. They are hard to find, but totally worth it when you do find one. Mostly you find weapons and contraband, which you knock loose from the wreck by blasting it once.
Weapons are found in every class, from 1 all the way to 10, and in fact wrecks are the only source for Class 10 Weapons.You can choose to keep or sell these weapons, on one hand you have unlimited storage for guns, on the other hand everyone buys weapons and it's pretty good money.
Contraband (Cardamine and Artifacts) are illegal commodities. They can be sold on certain planets for a very high price, but if the police scan you they will immediately confiscate the stuff, and the most lucrative markets tend to also be the ones with the most police around. Best to get the stuff off your hands quickly. Some wrecks also contain legitimate goods, which can be sold without fear of police action.
Wrecks aren't that common, and once you loot them they're worthless. You can get rich quick off them, but you run out fairly fast.
Many debris fields can actually be mined (indefinitely!), by blasting those tiny asteroids that float around. Mostly they give low-value loot such as Scrap Metal or Water, but just about anything that isn't actually manufactured can probably be mined somewhere. Mining is an excellent alternative to buying trade goods. It takes longer, but on the other hand it's free loot.
Switch on Mineable Zones view in your navmap to find mineable fields. Sometimes the description for the field will tell you what you can mine there, and how rich the field is. Sparse fields might have one-in-twenty odds of giving single units of loot, while very rich fields such as the Omega 7 copper clouds might give 10 units every other shot.
Mineable fields do tend to be far from good markets (which is logical, since any commodity will be cheapest near the source). Therefore, this task is best done by a Trader. On the other hand, some commodities are so valuable that even a bad sell is worth it if the base is close enough. Mined goods are technically free, but think twice about mining in hazardous zones; repairing damage from radiation or tough fights may be more expensive that just buying your cargo.
If you have a very powerful weapons loadout, it's best to blast the asteroids with only one weapon. Otherwise, you risk your first shot cracking the asteroid and the rest of the barrage destroying the loot.
In multiplayer games where all lootable wrecks and depots are quickly raided mining can offer the fastest way to earn credits for a new character. Graves Station in Dublin is one location where with nothing more than the starting starflier one can quickly earn enough credits to buy a Dromedary, as the drop rate is extremely high, Graves Station offers a good price for gold and by using Graves as a shield it is even possible to continue mining gold while Corsairs/Mollys are raiding.
This is the simplest way to make money, if not the most interesting. Just buy Commodities at a base where they're cheap and sell them where they're more expensive. Since you have no overhead or fuel costs, trading in Freelancer is all profit. Visit the Trade Routes page for more information. You can even trade in contraband, although that carries the legal risks mentioned above.
You may wish to buy a freighter if you plan to make a career of this. A very skilled player may choose to buy a Dromedary, but this ship is fairly fragile. A less experienced player should probably go with a Humpback, which is slightly less capacious but much tougher. Fighting with a freighter is different from fighter combat; with their large turret loadout and slow maneuvering, the correct way to fight in one is to set the ship to autopilot and shoot using turret view.
The main hazard in trading is pirates, who disrupt the Trade Lanes and then do one of three actions. If you are Friendly with the pirates' faction, they will ignore you and continue to keep station. If you are Neutral towards them, they will demand your cargo, and either attack or send you on your way depending on if you give it to them. If you are Hostile, they will simply attack on sight.
If you are actually attacked by pirates, you have three options. You can try to hold them off while you wait for the disrupted Trade Lane ring to reboot, you can flee for the next one in line, or (if you're really powerful), you can simply annihilate the entire squadron and sell their wreckage for extra profit. Some traders even maintain a small amount of empty cargo space for this very purpose.
This is probably the most lucrative job, although it also has a major effect on your Reputation. A client (you must have a Neutral or better stance towards his faction) you meet in a bar will ask you to make misfortune happen to an enemy faction; steal something from them, or assassinate some bigwig, or blow up a base. You will always be killing ships in the process, most missions have a kill count of 10 or so.
Rarely, your target will actually be at the waypoint the mission control gives you; more often, this point will have nothing but a swarm of ships, which you will have to shoot through before being given the actual target's location. This is usually accompanied by the line "We read that your primary target's not there. Hold off his cronies until we can locate him", or "Good job, but you're not done yet! There are more hostiles at the next waypoint".
Base-killing missions will never involve any actual bases or planets. Rather, the game will generate a brand-new space station, which has hitpoints and can be destroyed. You can buy and use torpedoes for this, but most bases aren't very tough and can be destroyed with just gunfire.
To avoid distractions, your non-target enemies will act as though they are neutral until you finish the mission. Don't take this as an opportunity, though; if you attack them, they will fight back just like genuine neutrals.
Another method of making money is to find an enemy base or Jump Hole and just camp out there, blasting anything that tries to come or go, heading back to friendly space occasionally to sell all the weapons and cargo you tractor in from the wreckage. You can even do this with a non-hostile base that has some hostile traffic, although this tactic might be considered cheap.
You can do this anywhere that has hostile traffic, although some places will be better than others. Higher-level enemies drop better equipment, and certain areas have enemy traders that will drop large amounts of Commodities.
You can even become a pirate; really the only difference is who you're targeting. On one hand legitimate shippers have more allies, but on the other hand one looted Train will give more loot than you can possibly use. If you turn pirate, the best places to lurk are trade lanes and Jump Gates. You can force shippers to stop and fight you by disrupting the trade lane. Just blast a mid-route Lane ring until it runs out of health, then do it again every time it reboots.
Your Reputation is a measure of how much the various factions like or dislike you, and governs how they react to you. Each faction has its own Reputation meter. There are three levels of reputation: Hostile, Neutral or Friendly.
Levels of ReputationEdit
A Hostile faction (shown in red) will simply attack you on sight. Hostile pirates will not bother demanding your cargo, and Hostile police will not bother scanning you first. A Hostile-owned base will also deny you landing permission (and shoot at you), but only if it's actually owned by hostiles rather than merely visited by them.
A Neutral faction (shown in white) has no particular feelings towards you. Pirates will attempt to steal from you like anyone else, but otherwise most factions will ignore you. A neutral faction will allow you to land on their base, but may not sell you their strongest equipment or give you their most profitable missions. Also, beware if the Neutral faction has Hostile allies; if you encounter both at once, the neutrals will assist the hostiles.
A Friendly faction (shown in green) will do everything they can to help you. Police will still scan you, but that's just their way. Friendlies will assist you in combat against foes they are neutral to, and will stay out of it if you fight with their allies. On bases, they will sell you anything they have, and will offer you the most profitable missions available.
If you attack a Friendly or Neutral object, it and everything in sight allied with it will turn hostile and attack. If this happens, a swift getaway by Trade Lane is suggested. The incident will not be properly forgotten until you leave the system or dock with something, but the Lane will get you out of immediate trouble. Do not try for a base instead (at least, not one of the ones you pissed off), since those will just deny you landing permission.
Methods of ImprovementEdit
Missions are the easiest way to get a good reputation with a faction. However, there is a halo effect: the mission will affect the friends and enemies of both the target and the mission-giver. Also, factions pay more attention to the giver than the target; taking any mission from criminals, even against other criminals, will anger the police, and vice versa.
Another method for improving your reputation is to find and camp a base full of someone everybody hates; Xenos are popular for this. This method is slower, but more controllable since you only have to deal with one set of friends/enemies.
Some bases will have people who offer to convey a bribe from you to a particular faction, making them Friendly to you. This will of course also change your rep with the target's friends and enemies. The bribe will be enormous (after all, you're buying off an entire faction), and varies in direct proportion to bad your reputation was before. A maximally hostile rep costs 150,000 credits to fix.
Your Reputation will change drastically several times over the course of the storyline. Each time you change houses, all your reputations will change, generally providing a clean slate in the next house and burning all your bridges in the last. Everything resets again at the end, thanks to your full pardon. Also, story-mandated friendships and hostilities (which is most of them) cannot be changed. For this reason, it's not worth working on your reputation until the main storyline is complete.